Let’s talk frames

In reading about the experiences of queer folks online, my inner theoretical monster has definitely lept from the shadows…as I’m sure you can tell by reading some of my previous posts. One thing that has become very important in terms of my personal understanding of queer meaning in blogging and vlogging spaces is the concept of frames, introduced to me and to the social world by one, Erving Goffman.

Goffman’s theory of frame analyses explains that communities, groups, and sets of individuals have a certain shared perception that allows them to define what reality is and what situations mean. This shared perception, a set of rules that governs any given activity, Goffman identifies as the “frame.” The process of framing is one that concerns the structure of experience and the organization of collective activity; Goffman is not at all concerned here with the agency or consciousness of the individual. His goal is to make observations about objective structures, seeing the subject as unselfconscious (Jameson 238). Though the individual may define his or her situation as “real,” the reasoning behind that belief is constructed socially within the context of a frame.

The isolation of a particular frame takes place when the analyst focuses in on a “strip” of activity or actions. According to Goffman, the term strip refers to “any arbitrary slice or cut from the stream of ongoing activity” (Goffman 10). Any instance that can be identified and organized can be analyzed through its frame, and as many possible frames exist as the ways in which an event can be differentiated (Craib 81). Goffman’s theory contributes the idea that one strip of activity could have many meanings assigned to it, depending on the frame within which the actor is operating. The frame is merely the tool by which we analyze events; a camera, as it were, that creates a picture of reality (Gameson 603).  This picture is comprised of what the actor is “alive to at a particular moment” or what he can “take into his mind” (Goffman 13). The frame serves to connect meaning to a situation that would otherwise be meaningless to the individual.

Each strip of activity is originally located within a “primary framework” that determines whether the situation is naturally occurring or man-made (Gameson 604). The frames are then situated within a still larger structure: the “definition of the situation,” which is described as the actor’s largest subjective response. Within the primary framework, then, groups have the ability to alter the meaning of the strip through collective action and understanding. The two processes by which this change becomes possible are “keying,” or shifting the framework to change the mutual understanding of certain actions, or “fabrication,” the active deception of one or more individuals by a group (Goffman 40). So imagine you’re hanging out with your friends down at the Chok’lit Shoppe and Pop Tate is slinging you a couple of burgers. (Let’s hope he has black bean burgers or some other vegan option at this point. Pop–come on) You say to your buddy, “Hey man! That baseball game this afternoon was real groovy! Every guy really gave it his all!” So your buddy responds, “Yeah cool story bro. Too bad you were there giving it your all or we could have actually won the game.” Your bud has just changed the key of your frame from happy go-lucky Archie land to jerk-tastic Reggie city by making you feel wicked crummy about what you just said/did. Capeesh? Goffman describes these processes as:

“The set of conventions by which a given activity, one already meaningful in terms of some primary framework, is transformed by the participants to something quite else” (Goffman 43-44).

Scholars of frame analysis believe that frames are indispensable to the process of communication (Scheff 371). Without an understanding of context as it relates to frame, as Thomas Scheff wrote, an analyst “may well misinterpret the meaning of discourse (Scheff 372). Now—try to keep all of this in mind when reading my next post. Buckle your seat belts and prepare for…A CASE STUDY!

Works Cited:

Craib, I. “Erving Goffman: Frame Analysis.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences 8.1 (1978): 79-86. Print.

Gameson, William A. “Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience.” Contemporary Sociology 4.6 (1975). Print.

Goffman, Erving. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1974. Print.

Scheff, Thomas J. “The Structure of Context: Deciphering Frame Analysis*.”Sociological Theory 23.4 (2005): 368-85. Print.

Image Credit: 

Goffman: http://bit.ly/Jesxdh

Pop Tate: http://bit.ly/IFFjPv

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About playasimplemelody

Queer kid from Maine, living in the wrong city–fucking with gender, eating green things, and chasing the academic horizon. Vegan. Feminist. Sex positive. Body positive. Yummy. Internet obsessed. Absent minded. And such. View all posts by playasimplemelody

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